Recently, we were leaving, or should I say trying to leave, our local Ikea when we were confronted by this paradox: how do we get out of the parking lot where the only exit is to the left, but we are forced to turn right. No matter what, we'd break the rules.
In our strategic evaluations, we often find similar points of confusion when customers are trying to navigate business processes. We've seen them in software registration systems, electronic job boards, mortgage applications - the list goes on and on.
Customers can't complete task A without completing task B, but you can't complete task B without data from task C, which depends on completing task A. They're left in an endless loop, with no hope of resolving their situation without gaming the system (always a problem) and/or outside intervention from customer support - which dramatically increases the cost of doing business.
Eliminating points of confusion improves operational efficiency, profitability, and customer satisfaction.
So how do you eliminate points of confusion? Well, nothing beats a good plan when designing the system. Often circular logic is created by features that are added after the initial requirements and process design when they would be more easily identified. Therefore, we recommend that every new feature added to a process go through the complete development process. Make sure to keep the process flows up-to-date so that problems with new features are readily apparent.
Second, confusing interfaces are things that customers love to complain about because it makes them feel smart. Monitor your customer support calls and emails to see what users are complaining about. And you can also get their feedback in monthly contextual inquiry sessions with actual users.
Eliminating points of confusion is a two fold function:
- Heading off problems before they start with a system of checks/balances for business logic, as well as a general awareness about points of confusion. Good requirements gathering, process flow definitions, effective QA practices and key staff blessed with an aptitude toward logic, thoroughness, and reason are the best tools.
- Identifying existing problem areas. There are a variety of methods for identifying problem areas, including monitoring customer support calls, monthly contextual inquiry sessions with actual users, and regular strategic evaluations focused on key areas of concern.
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